The Benign Spooky
Getting Religion - New York Times
The caricature of American evangelicals as incurious and indifferent to learning is false. Visit any Christian bookstore and you will see that they are gluttons for learning - of a certain kind. They belong to Bible-study groups; they buy works of scriptural interpretation; they sit through tedious courses on cassette, CD or DVD; they take notes during sermons and highlight passages in their Bibles. If anything, it is their thirst for knowledge that undoes them. Like so many Americans, they know little about history, science, secular literature or, unless they are immigrants, foreign cultures. Yet their thirst for answers to the most urgent moral and existential questions is overwhelming. So they grab for the only glass in the room: God's revealed Word
Here is an autobiographical account of a (former) teenage Evangelical, possibly a decade younger than me.
I got religion as a teenager, but not the evangelical variety--possibly because I was older, and because I was female. I was on a quest for the benign spooky--an amalgam of high art, mysticism and the frisson that comes from ghost stories. In Spenser's time it was called "faerie"; now, in a degraded, homogenized, commercialized form it's New Age.
I'm not exactly sure when it started with me. Possibly reading Franny and Zooey, getting A Treasury of Russian Spirituality and trying the Jesus Prayer. More likely singing the Schubert Mass in G at music camp. The clincher was certainly my high school senior field trip to New York City when I went to the Frick and saw a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti--the Woman Clothed in the Sun, crushing the Serpent under her heel. I was thrilled. When I went to college it was more of the same: The Faerie Queene, Quarles Emblem Books and the Metaphysical Poets, the Grail Quest, Northrop Frye and the Archetypes, T.S. Eliot, Traherne's Centuries of Meditations ("The corn was orient and immortal wheat...") and more music--the Bach b-minor Mass. It was Romance, high Romance and the quest for the Transcendent.
At the time, the Church was a fairly good repository of all that, all the mysticism, aestheticism and Pre-Raphaelite stuff. There wasn't, in any case, anything else. Now there are Psychic Faires, the Pyramid Collection and the Church doesn't do that anymore.
But where is it, the benign spooky--the thrill, the magical mystery tour, the icons and archetypes, the grand Romance? The Church has failed me--and anyone else with that taste, anyone on that quest.And what else is it for--really? A community service agency ? an instrument of social control? Worthless: we now have better. If the Church isn't in the business of providing the benign spooky--the art, the mysticismand the thrill, the buildings and lovely things of every sort, the connection with our history--it has nothing.
I can't fathom why anyone would be an Evangelical. Reading this article, I can't get what appeal any of this could have. I suppose it appeals because the good stuff simply isn't available any more.